Business & Economy

EU: UK could jeopardize peace in Northern Ireland with proposed law changes

London, Sep 10 (efe-epa).- The European Union on Thursday urged the United Kingdom’s government to backtrack on proposed legislation that could override parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, saying it would breach international law and jeopardize peace in Northern Ireland.

The vice-president of the EU Commission Maroš Šefcovic held an emergency meeting with Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove in London to discuss the implications of the UK government’s internal markets bill, which includes proposals to alter the so-called Protocol on Northern Ireland, a mechanism to safeguard the soft border on the island of Ireland.

In a sternly-worded statement after the meeting, the Commission said: “Violating the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement would break international law, undermine trust and put at risk the ongoing future relationship negotiations.

“The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft Bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite,” it continued, referring to the 1998 international peace deal that put an end to decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

Šefcovic called on the UK government to withdraw the potentially law-breaking elements of the internal market bill by the end of the month and threatened legal action should it fail to do so.

“By putting forward this Bill, the UK has seriously damaged trust between the EU and the UK. It is now up to the UK government to re-establish that trust,” the Commission said.

“He reminded the UK government that the Withdrawal Agreement contains a number of mechanisms and legal remedies to address violations of the legal obligations contained in the text — which the European Union will not be shy in using.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government on Tuesday acknowledged that the proposed bill, published Wednesday, would break international law in a “specific and limited way” if approved by MPs.

The bill proposes the safeguarding of tariff-free trade between all four nations in the UK, including between Northern Ireland, a UK territory that shares a border with EU member state the Republic of Ireland, and Great Britain.

It would also give UK ministers the power to unilaterally alter rules signed off by the UK and the EU in the withdrawal agreement.

The latest spat comes as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier sits down with his UK counterpart Sir David Frost in London for an eighth round of negotiations.

Toughening his rhetoric, Johnson recently said that a deal would have to be done by 15 October or the UK would prepare for a no-deal outcome, whereby it would crash out of its five-decade relationship with the bloc without a future trade deal in place, meaning it would have to default to World Trade Organization tariffs.

Hardline groups within the Conservative Party, which has a resounding majority in the UK parliament, have presented a no-deal outcome as a viable option but the opposition Labour Party and liberal Conservative MPs reject it.

The UK officially left the EU on 31 January but is bound to the bloc’s regulations until 31 December 2020, when the transition period, allocated to strike a future relationship, was supposed to be secured.

Voters in the UK narrowly opted to leave the EU in a divisive referendum in 2016. EFE-EPA


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